Why Do We Have This Problem In The First Place?: Evolution, Creation, and Divine Hiddenness, Part 1

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March 3, 2014 Tags: Creation & Origins, Divine Action & Purpose, Evolution & Christian Faith project

Today's entry was written by John T. Mullen. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Why Do We Have This Problem In The First Place?: Evolution, Creation, and Divine Hiddenness, Part 1

There is an elephant in the room every time the relationship between evolutionary biology and Christian faith is discussed. Whether the discussion occurs in a church, a classroom, a coffee shop, a bar, or on a park bench, it will typically follow a certain pattern. In my and many of my colleagues’ experience, the pattern typically begins with questions about the interpretation of Scripture, followed shortly thereafter by broader questions regarding the relationship between faith and reason. Some inconclusive biblical “proof-texts” are tossed out, and there is usually a historical review of the “Galileo affair.” A couple of apt but non-authoritative remarks from Augustine may also appear, depending on the backgrounds of the participants. At some point we may expect an attempt to assess the strength of the most up-to-date scientific evidence we now possess for long-term, gradual evolutionary change, with emphasis on the evidence for the common ancestry of all living things. Many participants will ask whether human beings can in some way be exempted from the generally naturalistic account of origins that is supplied to us by our best biological science. A certain amount of biological knowledge is required for this, and a general consensus within the community of professional, practicing biologists constitutes what may be reasonably regarded as biological knowledge. However, attentive non-biologists (a group that may include anyone, but surely includes professional philosophers and theologians, as well as scientists in non-biological fields) can readily acquire the biological knowledge necessary to make reasonable assessments of the philosophical and theological consequences of the current state of biological science. Eventually, we may anticipate a full-circle return to problems of biblical interpretation in the form of puzzles surrounding the biblical figures of Adam and Eve, whether they can or cannot be regarded as historic individuals, and what theological consequences are in store for those who do not so regard them. This latter topic is currently so wide-open and unsettled that the array of available options quickly becomes dizzying. It can take years to examine them thoroughly and judge their relative strengths and weaknesses competently. But the good news here is that we have plenty of plausible explanations. Our problem is the much more desirable one of having too many plausible but competing explanations, and not yet knowing how to sort them out. This, then, is a very rough description of the intellectual landscape regarding the relationship between evolution and Christianity, and it is all very important.

But there is a problem with the above pattern. Something very important is missing. I think the problem can be best illustrated by means of the following story.

I recently had the privilege of leading a series of discussions spanning three consecutive Sundays in an adult Sunday School class at a local church (not my own). The discussions centered on the feasibility and desirability of reconciling Christian faith with evolution. The class displayed a considerable amount of viewpoint-diversity, from full-blown Young-Earth Creationism to a variety of happily sanguine attitudes toward non-historic, and even non-authoritative, approaches to Scripture. There were also a few agnostics. The only view not represented, at least among those who spoke up, was a Dawkins-style militant atheism (it was a Sunday School class after all). So there was some potential for fireworks, and I will admit to being somewhat apprehensive.

Happily, the discussion about the usual topics was both civil and well-informed. I was pleasantly surprised, and started to relax. But my serenity was unexpectedly shattered when a very astute but unassuming woman had the temerity to point out the elephant in the room. It is really an obvious problem that is remarkably and conspicuously missing from the list of usual topics. “What bothers me,” she said with a reflective but forceful tone, “is why we even have to deal with any of this at all!”

Now this remark can be made by someone who takes a clear stand on one of the divisive issues, and who means nothing more than that her own view seems so obvious to her that she can’t imagine how any reasonable person could think anything else. But it was clear that she did not mean that. She was not siding with anyone on any of the usual topics. She was referring instead to what has been called the problem of divine hiddenness, though she expressed it much more forthrightly. She quickly added that it was her calling to teach the Bible to young children, and controversies surrounding the issue of origins make it very hard to know how to do that confidently and in good conscience. How is it that God has not revealed himself more clearly? Shouldn’t we expect him to? Why is there even an apparent disparity between what Scripture teaches and the results of scientific inquiry? Shouldn’t we expect God to see to it that there is not even a hint of such a disparity? Does this very lack of clarity give us a reason to doubt God’s existence… or his goodness… or anything essential to the gospel… or perhaps just our ability to understand his communications to us (but the latter, if carried to an extreme, would threaten us with a debilitating skepticism regarding anything we might take to have been communicated to us by God)? The stakes, then, can be high, and the problem can be very frustrating.

Concerns about divine hiddenness can be only partially assuaged by making the apparently undeniable point that the “great things of the gospel” (Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection) are logically consistent with an evolutionary creation. They clearly are, and that point must be made. But we might yet wonder why we must distinguish between the “great things” and the other apparent teachings of Scripture that we might need to reinterpret if further scientific inquiry should require it. Does God really want us to remain in such a confused condition while we go about the very hard work of determining what he really intends to teach us? We must already deal with the ambiguities inherent in figurative language, and multiple literary genres employed in Scripture, and the accommodations he might be making to the cosmological ignorance of ancient peoples. Isn’t that enough? If he intends to help us with this problem, then why (after all this time) do we still have it? This is the elephant in the room! Few like to talk about it, but it is always there. Every now and then someone actually points it out. That’s what the children’s Bible teacher had done. It was actually quite refreshing, in its own disturbing way.

Come back tomorrow for the conclusion to this article.


Dr. John T. Mullen earned his doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 2004. He also holds a Masters degree in the History and Philosophy of Science from Notre Dame, and a Master's degree in Philosophy from Texas A&M University. He specializes in Epistemology, Philosophy of Religion and Philosophy of Science, and has extensive teaching experience in Ethics, Logic and the History of Philosophy. He has previously taught at St. Gregory’s University, the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics, Oklahoma Baptist University, and Valparaiso University. Dr. Mullen began teaching at Bethany College (Kansas) in 2012. He and his wife Rhonda have two children, Amy (16) and Christopher (13). Dr. Mullen is also a retired U.S. Naval Reserve Commander, and a 1983 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.

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Jon Trott - #84632

March 3rd 2014

Love this article!! But I’m so disappointed Mr. Mullen didn’t continue… I was dying to see where the conversation was going to go. For me, the hiddenness of God issue is even bigger than the usual “If God is Good, then Why…?” question. Please, sir, write a part II to this article… and for that matter, a part XII. Seriously.


James Stump - #84634

March 3rd 2014

Part II is coming tomorrow.  Sorry, we should have been more explicit about that.  Now there is a sentence to that effect added at the end.


Jon Trott - #84641

March 3rd 2014

Thanks so much! Looking very forward to it.


Eric Hansmeier - #84633

March 3rd 2014

I remember a number of years ago reading that one of the differences between the Eastern Orthodox tradition and various Western Christian traditions is that Orthodoxy is much more comfortable with the mystery of God. To cite an example, Eastern Orthodoxy accepts the idea of consubstantiality, but doesn’t trouble itself nearly as much with reconciling the idea of consubstantiality with apparent reality. Perhaps what the elephant in the room is telling Western Christians is that we need to become more comfortable with the mystery that is part of God’s nature, at least mystery as far as we are concerned. In other words, perhaps it isn’t God that is the problem as much as it is our Western hangup that everything should fit neatly into our compulsion to fit everything—including God—into our rational categories. 


Hanan D - #84638

March 3rd 2014

I don’t think it’s about mystery. Mystery is fine. It’s the total contradictions between what is around us and what the Book says. This site wouldn’t need to exist if the OT simply started a few chapters later and skipped everything from Genesis 1 till the end of the flood. 


Hanan D - #84639

March 3rd 2014

In fact, here is my mystery. Christians generally have no issue with Genesis being written during the exilic or post era. If this is so, then it has no connection to anything Moses received. Then why are Christians trying to reconsile the two?


john doe - #84635

March 3rd 2014

The Bible contains about 2000 fulfilled prophecies out of 2500. It has been estimated the average odds per prophecy are about 1 in 10 meaning the total odds are about 1 in 10^2000. Evolution would not disprove the Bible. Sometimes, YHWH does things passivley, sometimes actively. Gerald Schroeder has an interesting book called Science of God. he uses acient Jewish commentaries and the Original Hebrew. I spent months combing through the original Herbew of Genesis one. If a person stays with the Hebrew of Genesis one…strictly by the dictionary…its actually in harmony with the modern scientific order of events. Also, time is different everywhere in the universe. By using basic time dilation, Gerald shows that 6 days would pass above the universe and about 14 billion here. I took the time dilation formulas and here is what I came up with…T1=T2/ SQRT (1-(V^2/C^2))...If you plug in 13.7 billion years in days for T1 and 6 days for T2 and solve for velocity you get .99999999999999999999999999999999 % of the speed of light…this figures to 1/2 a millimeter closer than the farthest photons in the universe. There’s another way to compute this…5.1 days x trillion /265=13.9 billion years since the space in the uinverse has stretched a trillion times since the first matter. Before matter everything was moving light speed and time stops at light speed.


Hanan D - #84637

March 3rd 2014

John,

If you have read Schroeder than I assume you also have read Rabbi’s Slifkins’s books too and his comments regarding Schroeder’s work. The main thing Slifkin shows is that even if forced all that time dilination into those 6 days, it would still not reconsile anything with evolution since the order of what was created in those 6 days is totally off from what we know the order is. 


john doe - #84636

March 3rd 2014

I must point out though..that I’m in the Intelligent Design camp. But, if evolution purely by chance were proven…it wouldn’t nullifly all the other proofs for YHWH. To this day, there are famous scientists saying no one really knows how life started. Without a start, there would be no life. I’m also reading that no one can really show how complexity happens by chance. But, I do think YHWH could have made animals from animals. Create (bara) can mean to transformed. YHWH transformed Eve from Adam. 


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